Monday, October 22, 2007

Native Plant Sale

I went to the fall native plant sale this weekend at Morningside Nature Center with my parents. I bought a mimosa plant, aka Powderpuff (the groundcover, not the exotic invasive tree) to replace the one I killed last year. I love its puffy pink flowers and fern-like foliage.

I also got a passion flower. Passion flower makes me feel giddy inside. Seriously. I think it's the most beautiful flower I have ever seen--it's over-the-top with different textures, bright colors (purple!), and this wild fringe, all calling out exotically to potential pollinators--and I catch my breath every time I see one. Now I have my own! It's a vine that dies back in the winter, so spring will be exciting for me. You know--it's the little things.

Here's a photo of a passion flower that Kim took:

After I paid for the plants, this student-looking guy asked me a couple of questions for a Native Plant Society survey. "Have you been here before?" "Yes." "And how did you hear about the sale? Did you see an ad?" "Uh...I just know about it. It's on my calendar." All of a sudden it became terribly clear to me--I've become a plant dork! When did this happen?!

(So much for giving the blog a temporary rest.)

Free Plants!

Our university department, Environmental Horticulture, is super fun. All the people I work with are great, and I'm not just saying that because this is a work blog.

And one of the other perks of working where we do is that we get sometimes get free plants. There's a gorgeous demonstration garden that's planted a couple of times a year, and the greenhouse people are constantly raising new varieties to plant in the garden. When they're finished with plants for whatever reason--either they have enough of that plant, or they're changing the garden for the season, or some such thing--they send out an e-mail to the entire department advertising free plants.

Whoever sees the e-mail first in our office yells out, "Free plants! Gogogo!" and the rest of us gather our sunglasses and run to our cars to adjourn to the greenhouse. You see, speed is of the essence when free plants are in the offing. Everyone in our department loves plants--especially free plants. Many of them work in buildings a lot closer to the greenhouse than our building, and one never knows how many free plants are available. So it's best to rush over there immediately.

Today we were invited to take winter bedding plants for our gardens. These were tiny plugs of dianthus, snapdragons, pansies, petunias, and violas, some of them with beautiful flowers in purple, pink, white, and yellow already--precocious things!

I have to say, I don't really understand what it is about women and small things--any small thing, even if it's something mundane like a key or a box or an apple or whatever, is always like the CUTEST. THING. EVER. Duly, the women in the greenhouse today (including me) could not help ourselves from exclaiming repeatedly how cute the little plants with their little flowers were.

All that swooning over tiny things caused some kind of plant fever. I went a little overboard and got like 100 plants (in my own defense, they all fit into one small plastic pot). For penance, I'm going to give some to co-workers who couldn't be with us today, and some to my mom. She's a total plant geek.

I will post photos when I figure out where the camera is.

New House

I haven't written in a while because I've been in the throes of finding a new place to live. This week I'm moving, and next week I will be out of town. So this post will be an oasis in the desert of my temporarily abandoned blog. (Which will make certain of my colleagues, who look at blogging as a competitive sport, very happy. Ahem.)

My new place is a one-bedroom in a duplex. There's a pretty substantial yard with a large camellia bush and a gigantic Southern magnolia. The yard gets a lot more sun than my current place, so growing vegetables will be much easier.

And that means I can finally bring home those pots that have been sitting in the yard at work for about nine months...sorry, everybody. I grew my first veggies at work last year in five-gallon pots (with mixed results). And the pots have been sitting out by the weird blue water pump thing since after all the plants died. I keep meaning to bring them home, but, you know--it rains, or I have somewhere I need to be, or I just got my car cleaned...

As I've mentioned before, I planted some fall vegetable seeds a few weeks ago, but have been kind of neglecting them with all this other stuff going on (although I did finally transplant them to larger pots). And I need to plant more seeds. So that's on the agenda for when I get back from vacation.

The new place needs a compost heap. I also need to figure out the best place in the landscape for all of my plants, since some of them like more sun than others--but if they get too scattered, I will never get around to watering them. Sometimes it really seems that my life is just a struggle between desire and laziness. (Not very Buddhist of me, I know.) We will see which wins this week.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

After (and Before) the Rain

It has been raining nearly non-stop for the past week or two. We need the rain after an unusually dry summer--water tables and rivers are low, and of course landscape plants have been suffering.

When there was a brief break in the monsoon today, I went outside to take stock of my poor neglected plants in preparation for fall gardening. I emptied container saucers so the plants wouldn't be in standing water and took some photos while I was at it. Then it rained again.

My roommate has a thing for aloe and spider plants. Here's a shot of the patio behind the back porch. In the middle you can see the two avocado plants she pulled from the compost a few weeks ago.

Here's a close-up of one of them. I am so excited that we might have avocados, if we bring the plants into the house or garage during cold snaps.

I was a little worried about the vegetable seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago. I haven't really checked on them, haven't transplanted them yet, and uh...I left them right under the edge of the house--where all the rain pours off from the roof. I had a good reason for putting them there, but I can't remember what it was now.

When I went to look at them today, I was afraid they'd been washed away. But most of them were actually doing well! (Two of the pots, unbeknownst to me, couldn't drain, so those seeds drowned. Sorry, seeds.) I planted two kinds of lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, onions, and radishes. But I can't remember which are which, so I'll just have to see what happens when things get bigger. I still haven't transplanted them into containers--didn't have time this weekend.

Here are two banana plants we've been raising since they were wee little babies. Kate transplanted them a couple of months ago and they exploded since then. These are two more tropical plants, like the avocados, that will be fine if we take care of them when it gets cold. Container gardening makes so much sense for tropical plants in North Florida.

There are lots of other reasons to garden in containers. I can put plants inside or on the porch. I can move them when they need more (or less) light. I don't have to worry about weeding or nematodes. I can experiment with growing more high-maintenance plants without having to do too much. And I can avoid having a planned landscape, which is helpful since I don't like commitment, I rent, and (most importantly) my roommate/landlord likes having grass.

I mostly have natives and herbs in pots. The bulk of my container garden is in the backyard on some shelves I built out of stair risers and closet shelves.

This is a native fern. Just looking at it makes me happy. It's very soft.

One of my salvias has started recovering from my summer neglect. It's my favorite, so I'm pleased. I have a red one, a white one, and a pink one. The pink is so dang cute.

That salvia is great, but it's always trying to infiltrate my other containers. I have to keep an eye on it. And it grows fast! Here are two seedlings in my cyclamen pot. Be gone, intruders! (That's Swedish ivy creeping in from the left. It's kinda yellow from a nitrogen deficiency. Swedish ivy is a pretty groundcover with tiny lavender flowers, and it grows very, very fast. I cut it back frequently.)

My chives, though, is (are?) about the only plant that's truly happy with both me and the weather right now. It's going nuts!

Finally, I checked on the compost. I don't know why everyone doesn't have a compost heap. If you have an out-of-the-way spot in the landscape, compost is very easy to do, and if you do it right, you won't attract varmints. You just have to mix brown stuff with green stuff. I use dirt and dead leaves for the brown, and kitchen scraps for the green. I even compost wet paper towels!

After I took the below picture, I added more dirt (a couple of days overdue). Yes, the compost is another casualty of my summer yard avoidance.

On the left, you can see a Florida avocado plant growing from a pit we threw away. A clove of garlic had also sprouted, and in the middle are a ton of little sproutlings. I'm not sure what they are, but if they push through the soil I added today, I'll probably pull them out and plant them in pots to see what happens.

Compost keeps what we send to the landfill down, our kitchen trash isn't stinky, and we get free seedlings. I don't know what this country will do when we run out of land where we can put landfills--I know I don't want to live next to one. I've read that food waste is 30% or more of the garbage that fills our landfills, so it makes sense to try to keep it out of the trash. (And people who compost can usually pay less in trash pickup fees, by getting a smaller trash can.)

Seattle even recently passed an ordinance to charge all residents for food waste containers--like recycling containers, but for food. They'll pick the containers up each week just like with garbage and recycling. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What I Love about Florida, Pt. 454

I spent a long weekend with my friend Chris and her boyfriend, Eddie, this summer in the panhandle. We were on Blackwater Bay, just east (I think--I'm not so great with directions) of Pensacola. It was so beautiful.

We went kayaking one afternoon. Her two dogs rode with her (one got seasick and then fell into the bay). We watched a pod of dolphins feeding at sunset.

The house was off the grid, relying solely on solar energy and a well to function. There was a backup generator that ran on biodiesel. Pretty cool! It's hard to see in the below photo, but it's a beautiful house owned by a couple who are friends of Chris'.

For miles and miles around was conservation land, owned by the air force base and the water management district, among others. There was an estuarine stream (not sure of the exact terminology) right next to the house. It fed into the bay, really swiftly at high tide. If one was in the water trying not to think about sharks, one felt as though one would be swept away.

We also went on a boat ride (my favorite!) on the Yellow River.

Thanks, Chris!!

Grocery Shopping at Ward's

I love to grocery shop and cook. One of my favorite things about Florida is all the locally grown produce, much of it organic, that's readily available around town in farmer's markets and in my favorite grocery store, Ward's. Ward's is locally owned and I can remember going there as a kid with my mom, when the meat section scared me (it smelled like seafood, which I've always feared and loathed).

Ward's is great because it's just too small, and you're forced to interact with--and sometimes even touch--complete strangers while maneuvering around the store. (I try to be in a good mood when I go shopping.)

It's also a very mysterious place. I go there almost every week, but each time, without fail, have to ask the nice people who work there where things are (sometimes three or four times in one shopping trip). Olive oil, for example, is in two or three different locations. So is rice. I'm sure it makes sense in someone's mind, but right when I think I've figured out the logic, they rearrange entire sections of the store. "Excuse me, but, um, where did the chocolate go?"

I also always run into at least three people I know. Shopping takes longer than expected, because I have to have catch-up conversations while squeezed up against jars of artichoke hearts or bottles of red wine.

This Sunday on my way into the store, I witnessed a horrific car accident in the parking lot. This F150 pulling out of a space suddenly lurched forward and smashed into four parked cars. I spent about a half-hour talking to the car owners, the police, and all the onlookers who wanted to know what happened. Then I went grocery shopping.

It's the end of the summer, which is always bittersweet. On the one hand, I love autumn. I'm thoroughly sick of the heat and humidity of summer by this point and I am really tired of my summer wardrobe. Plus my car smells like mildew. But I do love summer produce, and it will be sad when the collards and avocados and green peanuts disappear from the shelves, not to be seen again until next May.

In the meantime, though, I bought some zipper peas and organic, locally grown spring salad mix, talked to a bunch of people, and said "Excuse me" about forty times. So: a good Sunday.

Belated Introduction

So I just realized I should probably introduce my blog. This blog is called "Ecomania" because it's going to be about all the gardening-related things that interest me: native plants, composting, local food and farmer's markets, smaller-footprint living, and anything else sustainability-related that strikes my fancy.

I grew up in North Florida, and I love a lot of things about living here as an adult. There's the beautiful natural places, amazing produce, great climate, and like-minded people. I hope I can share some of my observations and thoughts in an interesting way.

(Photo by Rob)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Weekend Yard Walk

This weekend my roommate and I did a yard walk. This is when we take our beers and walk around the yard looking at what's growing and what has died since we last remembered to water plants.

The heat and lack of rain over the summer finally got to some of my perennials, like the three different kinds of native salvia I have in pots (though I don't think I've killed them yet), and some of my other potted plants looked pretty gnarly and brown. I snapped off some dead bits and hoped for showy comebacks in a few months. I like low-maintenance plants, obviously.

The larger containers where I put a few different plants seemed to be thriving pretty well, and we still have broccoli, tomato, and strawberry plants from earlier in the year. The raised beds were choked with weeds but we decided to leave them until we plant something. Here's one of our hanging strawberry plants.

Some of the vegetable seeds I planted last weekend had sprouted last week, and I contemplated putting them into the beds or some containers I grew vegetables in earlier this year, but didn't deal with it this weekend after all. More on this when I get around to it.

In the compost heap, which also got neglected this summer--except by the roommate's girlfriend's wiener dog, Raz, who visited it faithfully--an avocado pit had shot up over a foot tall, clearly thriving. Whenever I see things growing in the compost I take them out and put them in pots, but sometimes they look so happy I put it off for a little while.

I'm really glad that fall is finally coming! It's my favorite time of year, and I'm looking forward to gardening again. The summer is just too hot for it.